DE Olaniyan Manning Up at Penn State

Responsibilities as a father have helped the Nittany Lion senior improve off and on the field. He is coming off a breakout season.

C.J. Olaniyan expects more of himself now, as a player and a person. As a father and an emerging star.

Everything is entwined, it appears.

Penn State's senior defensive end became a father last April 21, when his girlfriend, Ebony Hines, gave birth to a daughter, Nahla. He said it was “a life-changing experience,” that it immediately altered his outlook.

“I understand it's not about me,” he said during a conference call with reporters earlier this week. “Every decision that I make, it could influence her or affect her in a good or bad way.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, his career took off last fall, when he registered a team-high five sacks to go along with 39 tackles, 11.5 of them behind the line of scrimmage. The latter total was second-best among the Nittany Lions.

He was at his best in some of PSU's biggest games, registering 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and two pass deflections in the quadruple-overtime victory over Michigan, and an interception (and 33-yard return) in the season-ending victory at Wisconsin.

He said he began last spring - the time immediately before Nahla was born - with a renewed sense of purpose, that he was “trying to do extra stuff.” He spent more time in the film room, more time huddling with the defensive coaches, more time tending to details.

“That worked out good for me,” he said. “This year I'm trying to come out with the same mindset.”

Ebony and Nahla have been in State College for the last “three, four months,” according to Olaniyan, though they will return to Michigan, Olaniyan's home state as well as theirs, after Saturday's Blue-White Game. And just over a week before Nahla's first birthday.

While last spring was about personal growth, this spring has been about adjusting to the new coaching staff - to new head coach James Franklin primarily, but also his assistants, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and line coach Sean Spencer, a.k.a. “Coach Chaos.”

“They're both great from different aspects,” Olaniyan said. “Coach Spencer's more of a fired-up guy. Coach Shoop, he kind of commands the whole thing, but he can kind of get after you if he needs to get after you, so they complement each other very well.”

They have been after Olaniyan to become more of a leader on a unit that lost star tackle DaQuan Jones and saw another tackle, Kyle Baublitz, elect to forego his final year of eligibility. Olaniyan has been trying to assert himself since the latter stages of last season - “getting after guys when they need that, encouraging them when they need to be encouraged,” he said - and he continues to do that now.

“I'd say I've been a little more vocal this year,” he said.

There are new pieces to the puzzle, like recruits (and early enrollees) Tarow Barney and Antoine White. There are position switches, like the one that has seen Anthony Zettel move from end to tackle. And there will be new strategic wrinkles, like the outside linebacker/safety hybrid and (perhaps) some 3-4.

“We talked about putting that in, in the future, just to change the formation on defense up,” said Olaniyan, who very likely would play outside linebacker in such an alignment. “I'm comfortable in that, because I played some form of that last year. So it won't be that much of a transition for me. It should be a smooth transition for me, once we put in the 3-4 package.”

He'll do whatever it takes, in other words.

Just as he is trying to do in other areas of his life.

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